“Our Garden is putting in order, by a Man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion & asks something less than the first. The shrubs which border the gravel walk he says are only sweetbriar & roses, & the latter of an indifferent sort;–we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore, & at my own particular desire he procures us some Syringas. I could not do without a Syringa, for the sake of Cowper’s Line.–We talk also of a Laburnam.–The Border under the Terrace Wall, is clearing away to receive Currants & Gooseberry Bushes, & a spot is found very proper for raspberries.” – Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, February 8, 1807
When we visited the UK a few years back, a native said to us, “Welcome to England! If it’s not raining, it will be soon!” All that rain makes for lush landscapes, and the English love their gardens fiercely (and sometimes competitively). There is no doubt that Jane Austen enjoyed nature. It is an enjoyment she passed to several of her heroines, though it can be said that perhaps Marianne Dashwood loved nature not wisely but too well. But we never realized how truly pervasive gardens were in her work until we read In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson. Like many similar close examinations of a single aspect of Jane Austen’s life and work, it illuminated aspects of her work while giving us a glimpse into a subject that Jane would have known intimately.
Every aspect of gardens and gardening is explored, not only in Jane Austen’s novels but gardens like those she would have known, both in the country and in the city. The book is part literary criticism, partly history, and partly travelogue; Ms. Wilson painstakingly takes us through the various types of gardens Jane Austen would have experienced, from kitchen gardens to pleasure grounds, from great public gardens to walled-off private gardens, from the cottage at Chawton to a tiny slice of city garden to the formal gardens of a gentleman’s estate, and how she incorporated each of these into her work and her life. There are plenty of examples of period gardens, including some that we can visit now to get an idea of the many types of garden that Jane Austen would have known and written about, wandered in and worked in. Anyone planning a Jane Austen excursion to the UK should definitely check it out–you might want to add a few stops to your itinerary. Just be sure to change your stockings if they should become damp!
This book is a sensory experience, with full-color photography of luxuriant flower gardens and pleasure walks. In the Garden with Jane Austen livened up a gloomy, cold, rainy late-autumn day for us, reminding us of the beauty and fragrance of a summer garden.